The Commission

We still live in a world divided in many ways by color lines. and the fight against racism is about whom we choose to be. And it is about whether working people will be able stand together and raise wages in the America of the 21st century.

Last year, the AFL-CIO launched a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and to identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify.

The Labor Commission engaged in labor discussions around the country, addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change.  It created a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard. The results of the commission are encapsulated in this report and in the toolkit designed to faciliate discussion at the city and state levels.

Commission and Advisory Board Members

On a Saturday afternoon in August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was fatally shot and killed by 28-year-old police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. This was the third killing of an unarmed black man by police officers in as many weeks. Eric Garner suffocated in an illegal chokehold in New York City. John Crawford, a new father, was killed in an Ohio Walmart while waiting to purchase a pellet gun. Each incident was captured on video and shared widely on social media. During a weekend of protests in Ferguson, emails and calls from our affiliates, central labor councils and constituency groups poured into our Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department asking, “What do we do? How do we respond?”
The story of race and labor in America starts with the treatment of black workers in the South. That region’s cultural isolation from, but continuing political and economic influence on the rest of the country continues to this day. When African Americans moved north in the 20th century over the course of two world wars and the Great Depression, they found more personal freedom—but they also found ongoing discrimination and unequal access to economic opportunities. In the decades between the two wars, business interests deliberately used race and ethnic differences to undermine labor unity. Some unions responded by embracing integration; others resisted.